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State Lawmakers Hashing Out New Pot Push

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach), flanked by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park), speaking to reporters.
Nick Evans

State health officials are nearing a decision on who will get to grow medical marijuana in the Florida.  Meanwhile two lawmakers are hoping to expand the pool of eligible patients.

Since 2014’s Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act became law, trouble has followed it like a shadow.  The rulemaking process and subsequent administrative challenges blew right past the January 1 start date lawmakers envisioned for the new medical marijuana system.  Ten months later, officials have yet to settle on which nurseries will grow the plant.  But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) says that decision is right around the corner.

“The Department of Health has represented to me that we are days or weeks away from licenses being issued to legally grow medical cannabis in the state of Florida,” Gaetz says.

Under that law, patients with cancer or epilepsy are eligible for non-euphoric marijuana.  Now Gaetz and his partner Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) are working on a new measure to get the drug to more patients.

“This particular act that we’ve filed today, is applicable to individuals who are at the end of life,” Bradley says.  

“There’s been two physicians who have determined that they are terminal,” Bradley goes on, “and this is providing this option—this treatment option—to have that decision between the doctor and the family.”

Those limitations come from the Right To Try Act passed in the last legislative session.  Right To Try grants terminal patients access to any drug that has passed its first clinical trial, but Gaetz and Bradley are looking to allow cannabis—of any potency—as well.  Gaetz says extending the drug to terminally ill patients will improve end of life care.

“Too many family members rush to the bedside of the dying, only to find their loved ones at the end of life in excruciating pain of pumped full of opiates unable to meaningfully say goodbye,” Gaetz says.

“I don’t want to go that way.  I don’t want anyone I love to go that way,” Gaetz continues.  “I don’t want anyone in Florida to have to go that way as a result of dogmatic antiquated cannabis laws.”

Lawmakers are pushing for a legislative solution to marijuana policy as two constitutional amendments gather signatures for next year’s ballot.  One of the provisions came within three percentage points of passing last year.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.